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UConn upsets No. 1 UCLA, advances to Elite Eight

The men's soccer team wins 4-3 (5-4 PKs) to vanquish the tournament's top seed.

UConn fans celebrate after the men's soccer team's win over UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament.
UConn fans celebrate after the men's soccer team's win over UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament.
Jonathan Restivo

Penalty kicks.

No two words strike fear into the hearts of UConn men's soccer supporters quite like those. Anyone who has followed the team in recent years knows why.

Zero wins, six losses. That was UConn's record in penalty kicks under Ray Reid prior to this year. Each of those losses was a like big, soul-crushing steamroller slowly squeezing the life out of you as it ran you over, backing up two or three times before the driver got out and shot you in the head. My personal favorite was when UConn lost to Charlotte in the Elite Eight my senior year at Morrone Stadium. It took all I had to not throw up right on the field.

But last week, something changed. UConn faced to UMBC in penalty kicks and... won. I don't think anybody who saw it (or was following on Twitter) knew what to do with themselves. It was awesome! It was a release! Hell, it was a relief if anything. UConn lived to fight another day, and now the Huskies had a chance to make a real statement against No. 1 UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen.

It only seems appropriate that it would come down to PKs once again.

UConn found itself in an early 2-0 hole earlier tonight against the No. 1 seed in the tournament, giving up both goals within seconds of one another in the first 15 minutes of play. Cyle Larin got UConn on the board at the 34:52 mark, and the Huskies finished the first half strong, taking the play to UCLA's end and nearly converting on a couple of good chances.

Kwame Awuah tied it up for the Huskies early in the second half at the 57:05 mark, but it wouldn't be that easy for UConn, as UCLA answered almost immediately to pull ahead once again 3-2.

Larin proved to be the hero for the Huskies again about 10 minutes later, when he found the ball in a scramble following a free kick and sent it home to tie the game at three. Two scoreless overtime periods later, thanks to a preposterous point blank save by UConn goalie Andre Blake, it was time for the Huskies to face their demons once more.

UConn got on the board first after Colin Bradley put his first attempt past UCLA keeper Earl Edwards Jr., and Brian Iloski quickly tied it up to make it 1-1 after one. Juho Karpinnen missed his next shot, and Victor Chavez scored to put UCLA ahead 2-1. It was a familiar – and extremely uncomfortable – position for UConn and its fans, who could feel the bulldozer approaching.

Larin and Gage Zerboni traded goals to make it 3-2, and then Mamadou Doudou Diouf put one home to tie it up, but unless UConn could get a stop, the Huskies were in big trouble.

UConn's prayer would be answered on the next shot when Leo Stolz sailed the ball over the net, keeping it at 3-3 after four rounds and giving UConn new life. Adria Beso and Jordan Vale traded goals in the final round, and then with sudden death now in effect, Alex Sanchez put his shot in the net, giving Blake a chance to win it for the Huskies with a save.

And that's exactly what he did.

Where this ranks in the pantheon of UConn men's soccer's greatest wins, I have no idea. That will all get sorted out once the season is over and we have some context to put this all in. But what matters right now is that UConn went to the west coast, faced down the best team in the tournament on their home turf and came back from certain defeat no fewer than three times to claim one of the biggest victories any supporter of the program has ever seen.

UConn soccer now advances to the Elite Eight, where they will face No. 8 Virginia for a chance to advance to the College Cup in Philadelphia. GO HUSKIES!